A Christian Perspective on Kristallnacht

In Faith, Holocaust, Love, Poetry by Amanda DeBrun1 Comment

Wednesday evening I attended an 80th¬†Anniversary Commemoration of Kristallnacht at Temple Israel in Charlotte. As I drove to the synagogue, I thought about what had happened in Pittsburgh eleven days earlier. I considered the possibility that this event might be on someone’s radar. I felt a little tingle at the back of my neck. I shook off the feeling and turned my thoughts to other things.

I arrived early, which gave me time to reconnect with old friends and find a seat. The program began beautifully with a procession of Holocaust survivors into the space we shared. Moving testimony, choral pieces, rabbinical exhoration, and prayer followed.

At the end of the evening, the rabbi asked all those who were not Jewish to stand. He then told those who were seated to look around. A significant number of non-Jewish people were standing in the midst of that assembly.

The Rabbi continued to explain that the times we live in now are different from those of the past because of the support and vigilance of the non-Jewish community. As a Holocaust educator, I knew that his words were both important and true.

But, as I stood there, in the midst of the congregation, looking at those who stood and those who remained seated, words and ideas pushed their way into my mind. These words had nothing to do with what I “knew” and everything to do with something much more important:

Reflections on the 80th Anniversary Kristallnacht Commemoration (by a Christian)

I have studied this for years
I have read the descriptions
I have listened to the testimony
I have looked at the images
I begin to understand

This commemoration
This recollection
This mourning
Is a necessary thing heavy with history
Tethered to a time that has passed and yet
not quite

This remembrance
This memorial
This observance
Is a painful thing burdened by being
Anchored in another moment and yet
Too close at hand

I begin to understand

I do not have this in my life
I do not have this thing that hovers over the congregation
As we commemorate with somber ceremony
I do not have the names to remember
Names of those who are no longer here
Because someone decided they were worth less than nothing
I do not have this haunting of my days
By a thing that is not really gone but returns with different names and different faces

And by the not having
I begin to understand


  1. Abstractly through poetry Donna Tarney helps us drift back to a time (1938) when the windows of all businesses thought to be Jewish owned were smashed by paramilitaries and thugs, and the edict was issued that no Jew could ever operate any establishment again (Citizenship had been revoked in 1935. Synagogues and schools were burned. Innocent people were arrested and abused, hundreds killed. ). Imagine if all self-employed people in Charlotte were turned out overnight with no possibility of earning a living anymore. It would make such a shock no one affected could wail. And any bravado would be nauseating. No, Christians do not have this in their life, but all of us should admit the ghostly anxiety because we too exist in precarious times.

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